ASSISTANT Secretary of State John Shattuck's visit Sunday to mass graves near the fallen UN ''safe area'' of Srebrenica was more of a media event than an evidence-gathering mission, observers say.
Mr. Shattuck's brief but dramatic visit to the graves appeared to be a public display of US concern for the massacre of thousands of Muslims despite its reluctance to allow US-led troops to protect the sites from being tampered with by Bosnian Serbs.
The Clinton administration, in sending Shattuck, appears to be responding to mounting press accounts of the worst massacres committed in Europe since the Holocaust. But its refusal to allow US-led troops to escort The Hague-based International War Crimes Tribunal investigators to the sites is a step back for the international court.
To protect or not protect
In a Monitor interview Sunday, Shattuck said he believed cooperation from local Serb authorities and protection from a yet-to-be-set-up international police force should be enough for Tribunal investigators to do their work. But Tribunal officials have been hesitant to risk their investigators' lives without NATO security.
As Shattuck toured the grisly sites Sunday, NATO Implementation Force commander Adm. Leighton Smith issued a blunt statement in Sarajevo saying, ''NATO is not, I repeat NATO is not, going to provide specific security, or in other words guarantee security, for teams investigating these grave sites.''
Admiral Smith's rejection directly contradicted a statement by Defense Secretary William Perry last weekend that NATO troops would escort investigators.
The mixed signals, according to Patrick Glynn, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, reflect divisions within the Clinton administration over what role US troops should play in Bosnia.
According to the peace accord reached in Dayton, Ohio, last November, US troops can provide security for war crimes investigators, but don't have to.
No mission creep
All six mass graves near Srebrenica are in the part of Bosnia US troops are responsible for. But US commanders see guarding the graves as a gradual extension of US troops' responsibilities into dangerous ''mission creep.''
Shattuck visited six massacre sites, which were inspected and reported on by the Monitor in a series of articles starting last August.
Shattuck said it was unclear whether the sites had been tampered with since the Monitor visited them because the ground was covered with snow. But a decomposing human leg at one site and other evidence at other areas nearby all appeared to have been untouched, Shattuck and journalists who accompanied him say.
The group's inspection of a warehouse where a survivor, uncovered by the Monitor last September, says 2,000 men were executed was the most dramatic. Blood was spattered on the walls and ceiling, and bits of grenades still littered the floor of the abandoned storehouse.